Syria used sarin gas, says Kerry as he spearheads military action drive

US secretary of state says world can't turn a blind eye to chemical arms and urges Congress to approve a military strike against Assad’s regime

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 02 September, 2013, 10:59am

US Secretary of State John Kerry yesterday spearheaded a drive to convince Congress to approve a military strike on Syria, saying Washington had proof the regime used sarin gas.

Picking up on remarks on Saturday by President Barack Obama, Kerry urged lawmakers to approve punitive military action, warning the world cannot turn a blind eye to chemical arms.

Hair and blood samples from the emergency workers who rushed to the scene of last month's attack in Damascus and given independently to the United States have shown signs of the powerful sarin nerve gas, Kerry told US television channels.

"In the last 24 hours, we have learned through samples that were provided to the United States and that have now been tested from first responders in East Damascus, [that] hair samples and blood samples have tested positive for signatures of sarin," Kerry told NBC's Meet the Press.

"Each day that goes by, this case is even stronger. We know that the regime ordered this attack. We know they prepared for it. We know where the rockets came from," he said on CNN.

Kerry blitzed the morning television talk shows, upping the momentum in his drive to build the case for US military strikes.

With Obama's unexpected decision to seek congressional support for a military strike, lawmakers now have a stake in the global credibility of the country. Both the Senate and the House planned a vote on the matter no later than next week.

Arguing for a plan that seeks to end Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's rule, Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham issued a joint statement saying that any operation should be broader in scope than the limited action Obama described.

"We cannot in good conscience support isolated military strikes in Syria that are not part of an overall strategy that can change the momentum on the battlefield, achieve the president's stated goal of Assad's removal from power, and bring an end to this conflict, which is a growing threat to our national security interests," they said. Assad, whose regime has faced an uprising since March 2011 that a watchdog said had claimed 110,000 lives, came out fighting yesterday.

"Syria ... is capable of facing up to any external aggression just as it faces up to internal aggression every day, in the form of terrorist groups and those that support them," he said, as cited by state news agency Sana. Syria continued to "record victory after victory", he said.

Lawmakers of both US parties had for days demanded that Obama seek congressional authorisation under the War Powers Act, which requires the president to notify Congress within 48 hours of initiating military action and bars US armed forces from fighting for more than a maximum of 90 days without congressional approval.

Until Saturday, the president showed no willingness to do so and a military strike appeared imminent. Then, Obama said he would strike Syria in a limited way and without boots on the ground. But, he added, he would seek congressional approval first.

"All of us should be accountable as we move forward, and that can only be accomplished with a vote," Obama said. "And in doing so, I ask you, members of Congress, to consider that some things are more important than partisan differences or the politics of the moment."

The president did not say so, but his strategy carries enormous risks to his and the nation's credibility. Obama long ago said the use of chemical weapons was a "red line" Assad would not be allowed to cross with impunity.

Agence France-Presse, Associated Press